NCR 'stalwart' Bob McClory dies on Good Friday

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Decadeslong National Catholic Reporter contributor Robert J. McClory died April 3, Good Friday, in Chicago after being anointed by a parish priest. Humorous to the end, his wife, Margaret, said Bob told the priest: "Hurry up; make it quick." He was 82.

Arthur Jones, McClory's first NCR editor in the late 1970s, recalled him as "a fluid writer, a disciplined and diligent reporter who earned the readership's respect."

Thomas C. Fox, NCR editor who worked with McClory in the 1980s and 1990s, remembered him "as a journalist with a passion for justice, a person able to find humor in all things."

Tom Roberts, NCR editor who worked with McClory from 2000 to 2008, said McClory "handled a huge range of material with a firm command of church history and theology, a pro's pro."

NCR Editor Dennis Cody called him "an admirable stalwart to the end. ... He was pitching me a story just weeks ago."

McClory fell three weeks ago, entered a hospital, developed a bacterial infection in an artificial knee, and continue to weaken.

"He died peacefully," said Margaret, adding that he died after his daughter, Jennifer, her partner, Sarah Klein, and their daughter, Rose, had arrived for a visit.

Robert Joseph McClory grew up on the first floor of a brick two-flat building in Chicago, attending a Catholic elementary school and studying five years at Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary before graduating in 1951. He attended St. Mary of the Lake Seminary and was ordained a priest in the Chicago archdiocese in 1958.

McClory served as associate pastor at Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity Church, Winnetka, Ill., for six years and at St. Sabina Church in Chicago until 1971, when he resigned from the priesthood, marrying Margaret McComish later that year.

McClory turned to journalism, getting a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. He then became a reporter and feature writer and later, city editor for the Chicago Daily Defender and the Chicago Reader in the 1970s.

He began writing for NCR in 1978. Jones tells the story:

As NCR's new editor in the mid-1970s, I was immediately on the lookout for first-class writers. Bob McClory had sent in an excellent news story from Chicago. ,Separately he'd included two or three lines about himself, explaining he was a former priest, now a writer. I called him up and asked him what he needed to write on a freelance basis for the paper. "Health coverage," he said.

Health coverage went with full-time employment; the editorial budget hadn't the money for full-time. I told McClory I'd call him back and put the problem to business manager, Donald Banhart. He proposed listing McClory as an 'agent' (a sales category that was covered) until someone said no. We squeaked by for two or three years until McClory made other arrangements.

Jones added: "McClory, to me, was the most completely laicized former priest I ever knew. He loved his ordained life, but his life as a layman and family man had none of the lingering clerical clues to that former world of many former priests. However, in both worlds, I eventually learned, he was droll, erudite and extremely funny when on a roll."

He also wrote for the Chicago MagazineUS CatholicChicago TribuneChicago Sun TimesCatholic Digest, Student LawyerIllinois Times, and the Chicago Lawyer.

McClory was author of nine books, including The Man Who Beat Clout City (1977), Turning Point: The Inside Story of the Papal Birth Control Commission and How Humanae Vitae Changed the Life of Patty Crowley and the Future of the Church (1995), Power and the Papacy: The People and Politics Behind the Doctrine of Infallibility (1997), Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church (2000), As It Was in the Beginning: the Coming Democratization of the Catholic Church (2007), Radical Disciple: Father Pfleger, St. Sabina Church and the Fight for Social Justice (2010), and From the Back of the Pews to the Head of the Class (2013).

He was co-author of the play "Haunted by God: The Life of Dorothy Day."

A disciple of the Second Vatican Council, he was always concerned about church reform and was a founding member and longtime board member of the Catholic Chicago-based reform group Call to Action.

McClory taught journalism full-time and part-time at Medill from 1983 until he retired and for much of that time taught upper-level magazine writing, though he also taught freshman and sophomore writing classes. He was the chief judge of numberless journalism competitions and was for many years a coordinator of summer programs on religion and media for graduate students. In 1999. he was a recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award from the Northwestern University Alumni Association.

Friends began to post tributes on McClory's Facebook page within minutes after his death became known online.

Visitation and wake will be held from 5-8 p.m. Friday, April 10, at St. Nicholas Church in Evanston, Ill. Visitation will continue Saturday, April 11, from 11 a.m. to noon, followed by a Mass at 12:15 p.m. in the church.

This story has been updated with multiple corrections.

A version of this story appeared in the April 24-May 7, 2015 print issue under the headline: NCR 'stalwart' Bob McClory dies on Good Friday.

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